Interview with director Jon James Smith (DO NOT DISTURB)

Jon James Smith’s short film “DO NOT DISTURB” played to great success at the August 2016 HORROR Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Jon James Smith: My motivation for making the film boils down to two things. Firstly I had a story and ideas I desperately wanted to share with audiences. Secondly because I want to get my first feature made, and I felt this would be a good calling card for my ability and tastes as a writer and director. This is my second short as a director, and I felt my first didn’t reflect what I’m capable of doing, so wanted to make something I’d be proud of, no matter how long it took.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

JJS: I wrote the script in one night pretty much instantly from getting the idea. Being based in the UK and having pretty much no contacts in LA, the film took about a year to get going. The actual shoot was only for three days, but I spent a year and a half on post production.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

JJS: Audience manipulation.

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

JJS: I think the biggest obstacle is always yourself mentally. Funding a short film yourself and spending years of your life on it doesn’t make any logical sense, but you do it because you love making movies and because you have to. In terms of production, the hardest thing to deal with was trying to get a movie going on hardly any money, the other side of the world in LA with a load of people you’ve never met. If I make a movie in the UK, I’m familiar with the locations, I know people, I can pull in favors, and spend time doing things myself. Face to face you can get people excited and bring them on board emotionally so they care about the film almost as much as you do. But having to do everything via email, trusting people you’ve never met, and with an eight hour time difference, gave the process an exciting and terrifying edge. Eventually I found the right producer and everything fell into place.

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

JJS: I think most directors initial natural reaction to criticism and genuine feedback is a negative one, because you want everyone to say your movie is the best thing they’ve ever seen, so you tend to focus on the criticism and don’t take in the positives. You’re really putting yourself out there when you make a movie, so its like a piece of you that’s being put on stage and spoken about. But when you take a step back from that and realize that honest unbiased criticism is so valuable and hard to come by, you can use it to learn and grow. If someones feedback hurts its because its probably true and if you can digest that then you will improve at your craft. I found it a unique experience, seeing an audience on the other side of the world freely talk about something I created. When you attend festivals with your movie, audiences either say nice stuff to you or don’t speak. I wish I’d always get that level of honesty from screenings. The feedback gave me insight into a few of my bad habits as a writer and director, and told me some things I do well.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Film:

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

JJS: It wasn’t so much that I had an idea for a story or characters, but that I wanted to experiment with manipulating and toying with the audience. I was really just playing around, and a small story crafted itself.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

JJS: As a kid I used to obsessively re-watch action movies I had taped onto VHS from the TV. So probably something like ‘The Last Action’. I saw it on TV the other day for the first time in at least a decade and realized I knew every word of dialogue.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

JJS: Late last year I returned to LA and entered the Shriekfest commercial competition and somehow we won! Right now I’m focusing on trying to get my first feature made, which is an intense paranormal horror film that continues to explore the idea of audience manipulation. I’m also writing a horror short on the side. The feature film could realistically take years to get off the ground or never even happen, so I want to keep creating content and working on my craft until something bites.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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